18 Mar 2020 21:07 IST

How IBS Hyderabad secured its AACSB accreditation

The B-school followed rigorous processes, prioritised its mission / vision goals and stayed the course

Prof S Venkata Seshaiah, Director, ICFAI Business School (IBS), Hyderabad, was on tenterhooks in the first week of February. The business school had just gone through an intense exercise, required to secure the coveted AACSB international accreditation. A mail from the initial accreditation committee, which went by the report of the nominated three-deans panel that did the review at the school, merely said that it had recommended to the AACSB accreditation committee that the B-school be accredited. “They said the Board of Governors of AACSB had to endorse it. I didn’t share this news with the staff and waited. They didn’t give any clue that we are going to get the accreditation. Finally, on February 6, I received an e-mail that we have been accredited. I immediately conveyed this happy news to all the faculty and staff,” says Prof Seshaiah.

However, celebrations were to be put on hold as IBS was gearing up for its annual gargantuan exercise of selecting 9,000 students for its MBA programme at IBS Hyderabad as well as its eight other B-schools spread out across various cities. Of the 9,000 students, 1,200 alone would be selected for IBS Hyderabad and 800 for its BBA programme on the same campus. This exercise would take a whole week. The party would have to wait.

 

Why the AACSB is such a coveted ranking is revealed in these figures: IBS is only the 12th Indian business school to receive it; two other schools were also accredited in February: IIM Lucknow and the Symbiosis Centre for Management and HRD, pushing up to 14 the total number of B-schools in India with the coveted stamp. Only 874 schools in 56 countries have secured this certification, less than five per cent of the estimated number of schools offering business degrees worldwide. The process is painstaking and time-consuming, and B-schools seeking the ranking have to meet rigorous standards of excellence and also stay the course. As IBS did, having kicked off the process for this accreditation in November 2013!

IBS Hyderabad offers a BBA, an MBA as well as a PhD in management and the B-school has secured accreditation of all the three programmes. As of September 1, 2019, IBS has 2,360, 2,445 and 52 students pursuing BBA, MBA and PhD respectively.

Clarity in mission, vision

IBS has set itself a clear mission, as reflected in its statement: To offer high quality management programmes that equip students with right knowledge, skills and attitude required to succeed in a dynamic world. And its vision is to be a leader in management education through industry-focused curriculum, case-based learning and applied research. The mission is met by integrating Teaching, Research, Institution building, Community development and Knowledge sharing (coined as IBS TRICK).

As Prof Seshaiah explains, AACSB does not set goals for a school that is looking to get accredited. “AACSB never sets restrictions on any B-school. It recognises that the school has articulated a mission for itself, and looks at the processes it has put in place to meet its own mission and vision statement. For example, we believe in the TRICK approach, so AACSB examines how far our teaching is imparting the right knowledge and how we assess learning outcomes, whether students have met the requirements, and if we are documenting everything properly or not,” explains Prof Seshaiah.

In order to earn and sustain accreditation, a B-school must align with 14 accreditation standards, organized into four categories: strategic management and innovation; participants — students, faculty, and professional staff; learning and teaching; and academic and professional engagement.

 

One aspect that the Peer Review Team, which visits the B-school to assess if it’s ready to be accredited or not, is very particular about is documentation, says Prof Seshaiah, as he waves his arm towards the shelves in a large conference room, chock-a-block with files. Each of IBS’ 171 faculty members has a file marked in his or her name, and all the research papers each has contributed to ABDC (Australian Business Deans Council)-certified journals (ranging from A to C grade journals) is filed away as well as their teaching history and experience. All student activities, either at the different clubs on campus or inter B-school activities where IBS participated, are also catalogued. So, just by going through the documentation, a school’s progress can be verified.

Assurance of learning outcomes

One aspect of the AACSB accreditation that helped the B-school re-look its teaching method is the assurance of learning outcomes. Prof Seshaiah talks about the financial management course that IBS was teaching. “Assessing horizontally, we could say that students were meeting expectations but, drill down vertically, and we found that students were not meeting expectations on certain rubrics (overall scoring).

Once IBS professors looked at the financial management programme holistically they found there was no cohesion between the chapters.“We made it more cohesive; also earlier there was more text-book problem solving, not much of application, so faculty members also changed the pedagogy and text-books, giving it more of an applications orientation. When we moved to the third round of self-evaluation, students were able to understand both concepts and fundamentals, and began to develop well-rounded knowledge. That way ‘assurance of learning’ helps the system; a concept emphasised by AACSB,” explains Prof Seshaiah.

Though, as he points out, IBS was following a system of continuous examinations earlier, there was no systematic feedback and analysis.“Students were getting marks, getting jobs, but once we moved to this system, we had a chance of adopting a laser-like, focused approach. We became meticulous in terms of assessing and knowing about students’ performance,” says the Director. The school has now developed a number of regular processes for assurance of learning and curriculum management through a 5C framework: course-embedded assessment; common grading system; continuous evaluation; communication (enhanced communication throughout the school regarding programme learning goals, rubrics and AOL results); and curriculum review (emphasis on a culture of continuous improvement in courses and programmes). These helped improve the learning assessment and curriculum management systems.

The process for the AACSB accreditation also motivated faculty. Over 516 papers have been published by faculty members in ABDC-listed journals. Faculty members who published in C grade, moved to B grade, A grade to A star, and so on. “The faculty is also motivated and we incentivise them to publish papers; we have 25 faculty members who have published in A star journals. We also place a premium on inter-disciplinary research, such as finance with marketing and so on,” explains Prof Seshaiah.

The core team

Apart from the Director Prof Seshaiah, two other professors formed the core team to drive the AACSB agenda for IBS. Prof M. Sitamma, Professor of HR and Official Designee, and Prof KS Venu Gopal Rao, Professor in Marketing and AACSB coordinator. On the pursuit of continuous improvement, Prof Sitamma says: “AACSB helps us to look at our processes in great detail and come up with specific strategies for continuous improvement. It streamlines things and makes it more systematic.” Prof Rao explains that, “We were able to expand the repertoire of our competencies. We could deal with multiple challenges at the same time through multi-tasking. Thousands of our stakeholders are going to benefit and it’s quite transformational and a system-wide change.”

What happens at the two ends of the spectrum: The students’ admissions as well as the hiring? “Now students will also see what kind of accreditation we have, plus our benchmarks are now higher in selecting better quality students. Our students will find it easier to get seats in AACSB institutions abroad. In placements also, with the accreditation, our standards are higher and recruiters know that,” explains Prof Seshaiah.

With the AACSB accreditation, life has been transformed for all the stakeholders at IBS Hyderabad. Now, the challenge will be to maintain that high levels of processes for the next several years; the accreditation would be reviewed after five years, but in that period the B-school too must show continuous improvement. The ball is in IBS’ court and it has to keep it in constant play.

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